In 1951, Dr. Donald Seldin made a career choice that continues to transform the lives of physicians today. The New York native relocated from Yale University to UT Southwestern Medical Center to join its Department of Internal Medicine. The fact that UT Southwestern was in its infancy became apparent to Dr. Seldin when he found the medical school housed in old U.S. Army barracks.
Although the young physician briefly considered leaving, he also recognized great potential existed to ignite significant educational and scientific achievements. Within a year, Dr. Seldin was Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, a role he would hold for nearly four decades. His reputation became that of a visionary, a tenacious leader, and a demanding yet patient teacher.
Little money existed for faculty recruitment during those early years, so Dr. Seldin turned to the brightest minds graduating from UT Southwestern. His key strategy was to identify promising students, send them off for advanced education and training, and then recruit them back to fill faculty positions at the medical center. Many of the students came from Texas, and he knew they were just as capable as graduates from older, more established medical schools. “One thing I know is: Brains are not geographically distributed,” he is fondly remembered as saying.
During his tenure and under his tutelage, several alumni became notable UT Southwestern faculty members, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Joseph Goldstein; Dr. Kern Wildenthal, President Emeritus of UT Southwestern; Dr. Jean Wilson, a leading national figure in endocrinology research; and the late Dr. Daniel Foster, who succeeded Dr. Seldin as Chair of Internal Medicine. Thousands of other students, residents, and fellows influenced by Dr. Seldin have gone on to become distinguished leaders and faculty members worldwide, making significant contributions to medicine.
In addition to his role as Chair, Dr. Seldin was also a major figure in the field of nephrology. He was a founder of the American Society of Nephrology, one of seven learned societies to which his peers elected him president.
His life began in New York City. During the Great Depression, Dr. Seldin worked a variety of jobs to help support his family, including grocery delivery boy, ballroom dancing instructor, and theater usher. In 1940, he received a bachelor’s degree from New York University. Three years later he graduated from Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Seldin served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was the only American expert witness at the trial of a Nazi medical officer, who was ultimately convicted. This had a profound and lasting impact. Years later, he would serve as the only medical doctor on the committee that developed the Belmont Report by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research that helped establish ethical guidelines, including informed consent, for medical studies in humans.
Throughout his life he garnered myriad teaching honors, was an early member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received six honorary degrees, including one from Yale University and another from the Université de Paris VI – Pierre et Marie Curie.
At UT Southwestern, Dr. Seldin held the William Buchanan Chair in Internal Medicine, and several other chairs have been created in his honor: the Donald W. Seldin Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine, the Donald W. Seldin Professorship in Clinical Investigation, and the Sinor/Pritchard (Katy Sinor and Kay Pritchard) Professorship in Medical Education Honoring Donald W. Seldin, M.D.
Many have called him “the intellectual father of UT Southwestern,” and it is fitting. Dr. Seldin’s memory lives on in the name of one of the six Academic Colleges at UT Southwestern Medical School. Visitors to the UT Southwestern campus can also find a 7-foot bronze statue of him at a blackboard on the Dr. Donald Seldin Plaza, which was dedicated in 2015.
Read more on Dr. Seldin:
- Dr. Donald W. Seldin, ‘intellectual father’ of UT Southwestern, dies at 97
- Dr. Donald Seldin, Who Put a Medical School on the Map, Dies at 97
Dr. Goldstein, a Regental Professor, holds the Julie and Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research, and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine.